Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agents kill one wolf and prepare to kill another to protect a rancher's livestock in northeastern Washington.

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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife agents killed one wolf and are preparing to kill another to protect a rancher’s livestock in northeastern Washington.

The wolves are in the population protected by state, but not federal laws. Only wolves in the western two-thirds of the state are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The wolf killed Tuesday morning was part of a pack in the so called “Wedge,” a remote area of northeastern Washington home to wolverines, grizzly bears — and The Diamond M Ranch, where complaints by a rancher of one calf killed and others injured generated the department’s decision to kill the wolf and prepare to kill another by Wednesday afternoon.

The targeted animals are two of last year’s pups from a pack in the Wedge, not the alpha male and female of the pack. “We don’t want to break up the pack, and this year’s pups are not [predatory],” said Dave Ware, manager of the game division for the department.

The department has been working to recover wolf populations in the state and manage a balance with ranchers making their living where wolves now live after being hunted to extinction as a breeding species by the 1930s.

Washington was home to two known packs of wolves in 2010, and five packs last December, and now has eight confirmed packs — and maybe more, based on public reports and observed tracks. The rebound is typical of the pattern, Ware said, in which recovery begins slowly, then picks up speed.

Wolf recovery in Washington is being managed under a state plan adopted by the state Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2011 that includes taking action when wolves prey on livestock, which this pack, Ware said, had shown a preferential tendency to do.

“Typically in these situations you are trying to change their behavior,” Ware said of the pack. That, the department estimates, will take killing two wolves, not just one.

The killing drew criticism from Mitch Friedman of Conservation Northwest, who questioned whether the rancher, who grazes his animals on open public range, took enough steps to prevent conflict with wolves.

“The killing of problem wolves will be part of life in Washington from here on out,” Friedman said. “But it’s unclear in this case whether the right livestock stewardship steps have first been tried to reduce conflict potential. If we expect wolves to behave, ranchers need to meet them half way.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736